Russia’s fairytale World Cup run ends in tears

The impassioned shouts of “Ros-si-ya” died away on the streets and tears filled the stadium as Russia bowed out of their home World Cup in the cruellest fashion: on penalties.

The men in red exceeded the wildest expectations by coming within a penalty kick and a save against Croatia of making it into the semi-finals for the first time since 1966.

They lost the quarter-final shootout 4-3 after extra-time ended with the sides deadlocked at 2-2 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

It was that close — and it all ended just as the nation was starting to believe.

“We leave the tournament with tears in our eyes but our heads held high,” the team tweeted as the stadium emptied of the 45 000 or so who had lost their voices cheering them on.


They had reason to be proud.

Russia were the lowest-ranked team entering the tournament and many in the sceptical media thought they would be lucky to win a game.

They trudged off the pitch after making it to the quarter-final for the first time in 48 years.

A semi-final was within grasp and the loss stung.

But the Russian team showed heart and won what seemed like the entire nation’s gratitude.

“The champions of our hearts,” the popular Sport Express daily said in a headline.

Then it paid them the highest compliment possible by declaring: “Russia knows how to play football.”

Empty feeling

Fans who had been dancing in the streets after a heart-pounding shootout win over 2010 champions Spain in the last 16 last Sunday were gloomy but grateful.

The nation was mourning on Saturday — but also paying its respects.

Chants of “Mo-lod-tsy” — an almost untranslatable word of praise and thanks that roughly means “Good job, guys” — echoed across the dark streets of Moscow and other cities.

“What can I say? It’s a pity we are out of this tournament but I am very proud of my team,” said Muscovite Alexander Khramoichenkov.

“I’m very proud of Russia,” the 34-year-old said.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the team’s performance “magnificent” after the watching the game from a VIP box with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

He came down into the players’ locker room and suggested that Russian football would never be its disappointing old self again.

“We will simply have a different type of football after this,” he said. “I am absolutely certain of this.”

But coach Stanislav Cherchesov — his moustache becoming the unofficial symbol of Russia’s Cinderella waltz through the tournament — seemed visibly distraught.

“I am still not myself yet,” he admitted after listening to a press conference question and then being unable to say a word.

Midfielder Roman Zobnin sounded very similar moments after he walked off the pitch.

“I have no emotions left. I left them all out there,” he said with difficulty.

“I feel empty inside.”

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Dmitry Zaks
Dmitry Zaks
Politics and economics reporter with Agence France-Presse (AFP

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Come what may, the UIF will pay

The fund – the main safety net for unemployed workers – will run at an almost R20-billion deficit

‘Terrorised’ family shines a light on traditional leadership for vulnerable...

The ambiguity between traditional and constitutional leadership has been exposed by the violent banishment of an Eastern Cape family

More top stories

Remote working: Bosses want ‘bums on seats’

Many workers, including managers, like working remotely, but research shows it can be tough on most other employees.

Living with Long Covid in Lagos

Most people recover from Covid‑19 quickly, but Long Haulers in Nigeria are turning to one another for support

Financial sector increases its government debt to 22%

The banking sector will be in a vulnerable position if the national treasury does not stabilise its debt

Get to grips with the brains of youth

Shaping the frontal cortex as a critical youth development strategy
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…